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Saturday 18 May 2019

The Symbaroum Campaign III

Yndaros – The Darkest Star is ‘The Third Episode in the Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns’, the campaign for Symbaroum, the near-Dark Ages fantasy roleplaying game from Swedish publisher, Free League, distributed in English by Modiphius Entertainment. Having been successfully funded via a Kickstarter campaign, it follows on from first part, Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden and the second part, Karvosti – The Witch Hammer. The first part took place in and around Thistle Hold, the northernmost outpost of Ambria, from where a great many expeditions set out into the Davokar Forest just a few hundred yards from its palisades and which has grown rich on the finds that some survivors bring back, whilst the second was set in and around Karvosti, the great cliff settlement which rises from the forest and is home to the High Chieftain of all of the barbarian clans and chief witch or Huldra, the site of the twice-a-year market or Thingstead, and which worryingly for both the High Chieftain and the Huldra, has more recently become an important site for the Church of Prios. Where Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden saw the player characters involved in a mystery concerning the fate of new patron, Karvosti – The Witch Hammer involved the characters in clan politics as well as sending them out into the Davokar Forest ultimately in race with several rival groups all interested in locating a great artefact. All this was against a background of a growing schism in the Church of the Sun, Ambria’s official faith and an increasing number of Barbarian clans who have united under the Blood Princess in order to destroy both Ambria and her Barbarian allies.

Yndaros – The Darkest Star does something that no supplement for Symbaroum has done before—it takes the player characters south deep into Ambria, the Promised Land, and to its very capital, Yndaros! Barring a short chapter in the core rulebook, all of the supplements to date have focused on the Davokar Forest and its surrounds, but the third part of the Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns changes all that. It presents a guide the new country and its capital, including a gorgeous map of the city that highlights the roleplaying game’s northern European roots, and to its counties and noble houses, before going on to reintroduce ceremonial magic, present multiple conspiracies and factions, and of course, the next part of the campaign itself. This is far more straightforward and direct than the previous two parts and involving a conspiracy of an apocalyptic nature, is much more investigative in nature. In carrying out the investigation, the player characters will be faced by the blight again and again, will encounter the great and the good—and the oh so bad—of both Ambria and lost Alberetor, and in doing so, discover and confront the biggest secret in both the setting and the kingdom.

As with the first two parts of the campaign, Yndaros – The Darkest Star is divided into three sections, the first is background, the second expanded background and rules for the Game Master, and the third, the campaign itself. The first part is ‘City of Contrasts’, which presents what is generally known about Yndaros, a city that some two decades on after the founding of the new kingdom of Ambria and the defeat of the Dark Lords in the last days of the kingdom of Alberetor, is still revelling in, and giving thanks for, that triumph. It gives some history to the city, in particular how Clan Kadizar surrendered to what were the invading Alberetor forces and how much of the city was built into and over the ruins of Lindaros, a city that may be as old as the lost kingdom of Symbaroum itself. This fact plays a major role in this chapter of the campaign and is actually the key reason why the player characters will have come to Yndaros if they have played through the Karvosti – The Witch Hammer.

Although mostly taking place in Yndaros, Yndaros – The Darkest Star does not include an extensive guide to the city—after all, that would take up the whole of the supplement, but it does include a reasonable overview and a guide to some of the city’s best known places to eat and drink, such as the Town Hall’s Loft with the somewhat egalitarian views of its owner and the shabby The Scratch & Rodent run by goblins; to stay, like Zoltar’s Inn, run by barbarians and so favoured by them; to go for entertainment, such as the Dome, where gladiatorial combats and other events are held; to trade, like The Chance, which specialises in objects brought across the Titans mountain range from abandoned Alberetor; and to learn, such as the Legacy Gallery, which which not only displays items from Alberetor, but famously, has exhibits of things and events from Great War against the Dark Lords. The section on the authorities not only covers the city’s administration, city watch, and the Cathedral of Martyrs, but it also examines the city’s underworld and its undisputed king, Nobleman Dastan. The section also goes beyond the capital to present information about Ambria’s counties and baronies and leading noble families. It includes a second map, this of Ambria, which is as good and as useful as the earlier one of Yndaros.

The Game Master’s Section builds on the preceding material, focusing in particular on the faction riven politics of Ambria which will fuel much of ‘The Third Episode in the Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns’ which appears later in the book. Karvosti – The Witch Hammer highlighted how both the barbarians to the north and the Sun Church are split, but where the threat of the barbarians of the Sovereign's Oath remains very much off screen in Yndaros – The Darkest Star, the schism within the Sun Church and the conspiracies within the nobility come to the fore. As well as detailing more of country’s noble houses—including guide to Ambria’s new heraldry—the section provides several good adventure seeds to be run in and around the city. These are useful should the Game Master want her players and their characters to learn some of the ins and outs of the city before moving onto the campaign proper. Lastly there are rules for ceremonial or ritual magic and one or artefacts, all of which play a role in one form or another in the campaign.

‘The Darkest Star’, the campaign itself, takes up half of the book. It is designed to be played with characters who have approximately one-hundred-and-eighty Experience Points each and again, have the reputation as bold and capable problem solvers. It can be played as a scenario in its own right, but is really designed to be played after having finished Karvosti – The Witch Hammer. Now where that had a disappointing hook to get the players and their characters involved, ‘The Darkest Star’ is the exact opposite. As with previous entries in the series, getting to that starting point is an issue, given that the player characters need to know something about the city rather than coming to it cold. This is where the adventure seeds come into play and ideally, the Game Master should run two or three of these so that the characters get the lay of the land before the campaign proper begins.

The campaign proper though, begins with a bang—literally. The player characters have at last found a contact who can tell them more about they found in Karvosti – The Witch Hammer. Then the sky falls on them and the Cathedral of Martyrs. The question is, what, who, and why? Answering all three is what drive the player characters throughout this part of the Throne of Thorns campaign. The campaign here is primarily investigative in nature and fairly linear in structure. Ideally, they should be driven to look into the matter themselves, but there are NPCs aplenty who will hire the player characters them to do so, and as the campaign progresses through its three acts, they will find themselves not only rubbing shoulders with many of the capital’s nobility, but running into some very strange, very weird characters too. There are a number of interesting places to investigate too, starting with the opening location where the sky fell in, but going on to take in the network tunnels which run underneath the city and are mostly used as smuggling routes—mostly, a noble’s estate which has been smited by blight, a crime lord’s den, and more. There are a few red herrings, but not many, and for the most part, ‘The Darkest Star’ is quite straightforward in terms of its investigative structure and so is both easier to run and play.

The campaign proper is, like the previous chapters in the series, followed by the ‘Aftermath’. This covers both the possible outcomes of the player characters’ actions as well as events which are happening offstage, but its primary focus is the former rather than the latter. Whilst the latter are a looming threat, the events close to home, those that form the campaign, are profoundly shocking in terms of the setting, and how the player characters handle them will affect the campaign. That said, should the player characters live up to their reputations as capable problem solvers—and if they can prove they can keep a secret or three—then they will gain some powerful patrons.

Although there is plenty of combat to be found in Yndaros – The Darkest Star, this third part of the campaign consists mostly of investigation and roleplaying—the later in particular being supported with scenes which really will astound long time players and fans of Symbaroum. The Game Master also has nicely done range of NPCs to roleplay. One issue the campaign does suffer from is the amount of information both Game Master and players need to know about Yndaros before play begins. It was an issue with both Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden and Karvosti – The Witch Hammer before it, but not to same extent. Further, the adventure seeds provided means that the Game Master can move her campaign to the capital and run a few sessions for everyone to learn more about it before the campaign proper begins. One advantage Yndaros – The Darkest Star of course, has over Karvosti – The Witch Hammer, is the strength of its hook to get the player characters involved.

Physically, this being a book from Free League and for Symbaroum, there can be no doubt that Yndaros – The Darkest Star is going to be a fine-looking book—and it is. The layout is clean and tidy, and the artwork is fantastic. Putting aside the repeated use of artwork—less of a problem here than in other books—the artwork could have been better used, for example as a set of portraits to show the players of the campaign’s very many NPCs. Especially given the number of factions involved in the campaign that both the players and the Game Master has to keep track of. One big issue is that the book does lack an index, potentially something that will slow play down if the Game Master needs to look something up. The writing is better too, with fewer instances of the reader trying to confirm what they author intended. Lastly, Yndaros – The Darkest Star comes with some great maps, the one of the city of Yndaros itself, is really quite lovely.

Having focused on locations in the north of the kingdom, Yndaros – The Darkest Star brings ‘The Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns’ and Symbaroum to Ambria and its capital, Yndaros. It expands greatly upon the details given in the core rulebook, enough to run both the campaign there and the various adventure seeds included in the book. That still does not mean that a supplement devoted to Yndaros or Ambria would not be appreciated as both would most useful for the Symbaroum Game Master. Nevertheless, it it good to see that the publisher expanding the setting as as providing adventuring material built around the new locations.

More straightforward and linear, Yndaros – The Darkest Star is perhaps the most focused chapter of ‘The Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns’ campaign to date—and feels all the better for it. From its big bang get go, Yndaros – The Darkest Star is also a more driven and clearer chapter of the campaign for Symbaroum, with stronger motivations for the player characters and more astounding revelations for them to roleplay against too.


Both Free League and Modiphius Entertainment will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between May 31st and June 2nd, 2019 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.

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